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To Forgive or Not to Forgive, That is the Question The sun was coming up and burning away the clouds. The birds were singing. Spring was in the air. It was one of those days you feel especially alive.

�God has truly blessed me by giving me Apphia,� he thought. �What more could a man ask for than a Christian wife? God has given me a house with plenty of room for guests. He has given me the means to make it possible for my brothers and sisters in Christ to meet here often. And now look at the day that�s dawning. It just doesn�t get any better than this!�

He thought about some of his Christian friends. His heart lingered over the name of a man he admired: the Apostle Paul. The thought of Paul shackled to some Roman guard and how he must be starting his day made him shudder. But what an encouragement Paul was to him!

�I owe Jesus my soul and I owe my faith in Jesus to Epaphras,� Philemon thought. �But if Paul hadn�t led Ephraphas to Jesus, I wouldn�t know Jesus today. I, my wife, my son, all the Christians in Colosse � we all owe our spiritual lives to Paul! A man we�ve never even met. A man who has endured unspeakable things for us all! Such love; such strength; such an example!�

At this thought, his heart melted into prayer.

�Lord, grow in me the sort of faith I see in Paul and Epaphras. Bring whatever you will into my life to challenge me to grow such a heart of love and grace. Help me to love others not for what they�ve done for me or for what they can do for me, but simply because you love them. Teach me how to love people as you have loved us. Amen.�

Philemon paused, thinking again of Epaphras. He remembered the words of a prayer Ephraphras had taught him as they came up out of the Lycus River when Epaphras had baptized him. Standing there on the bank soaking wet, Epaphras said, �Paul taught me this and it has served me well; it will serve you well, too. Pray this prayer every morning you rise up. Soak yourself in it every morning � then go out and live it!� And so he prayed:

�May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart, be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.�

But just then a thought intruded on his meditation. Where was his servant, Onesimus? He should have already been up and about doing his chores. But clearly no one was stirring. And unfortunately, this wasn�t something new, particularly of late.

�Where is that sorry servant this time? �He certainly doesn�t live up to his name. He�s hardly �useful;� he�s �useless!��

With that thought he jumped out of bed and began calling for Onesimus. But Onesimus was nowhere to be found! Philemon had just given up on his search for Onesimus when he heard Apphia cry out. Several valuable items were missing. It didn�t take Philemon long to put two and two together and conclude that his useless servant had ripped him off and fled!

Philemon�s mind raced. �How could he do this to us? We�ve given him a home, honorable work, decent clothes � and this is how he repays us? By stealing us blind and leaving like a thief in the night? I suppose I should have expected such from an unbeliever! He�s heard the word many a time right here in this house and he�s only grown further from God all this time. I�d like to see him just one more time!�

Several months later, the church was still meeting in Philemon and Apphia�s home. And now their son, Archippus, was preaching, too. The times were good. The things Onesimus had stolen hadn�t hurt them too much financially, but some of the items had been given to Apphia by her late grandmother and were far more valuable than money. To think they had been stolen and probably hocked for a handful of denarii really got under his skin. And truth be told, the mere mention of Onesimus� name grated on his nerves.

It had been a particularly beautiful day. One of those days when you feel particularly alive. Business had been especially good at the shop, but now the day was all but done. It was just beginning to get a little dark. Philemon and the rest of his household had just finished their evening meal and were about to turn in. Philemon had started toward the door to check the latch opening when he was startled by a knock at the door.

Picking up a nearby lamp, Philemon opened the door and held up the lamp to see � Onesimus � and some man he had never seen before!

The man with Onesimus spoke up: �Peace to you, brother. My name is Tychicus, a friend of your friends, Epaphras and Timothy. My friend, Onesimus, you know. We�ve come from Rome. Onesimus has something for you. May we come in?�

Philemon nearly dropped his lamp. He was just about to blurt out something when Onesimus slowly handed Philemon a small scroll. Philemon glared at Onesimus, but Onesimus looked only at the ground. No one said a word; you could have cut the air with a knife. Philemon jerked the scroll from Onesimus� hand, unrolled it and began to read. He gasped at it�s opening word:


�What on earth is Onesimus doing here, much less with a letter from all people, Paul? Is this some sort of twisted joke or a trick?,� Philemon thought.

Philemon continued to read the scroll, written in that very distinctive handwriting he had seen before. He knew how difficult it was for Paul to write. Since Paul couldn�t see well at all, he usually dictated his letters. But this was his handwriting � that huge, scrawled printing was unmistakable. That he would make such an effort to write this note himself humbled him Philemon a bit. He read on, beginning silently, but as he read further, he began to read aloud � louder with each line.

�Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ... I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love... I appeal for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.�

Philemon�s hands began to tremble and his voice began to trail off when he reached the words, �My son, Onesimus.� Philemon�s head shot up � and the eyes of Onesimus and Philemon met for the first time in nearly a year.

�You mean � you � you�re a Christian now?�

Onesimus faintly nodded, still saying nothing. But Philemon could see a barely perceptible tear welling up in the corner of one eye. Philemon stared at him for a moment, stunned. Then he began to read once more.

�You mean � you � you�re a Christian now?�

�Formerly he was �useless� to you, but now I am sending him who is my very heart back to you.�

Philemon could hardly grasp all that he had read thus far. But it was the note�s next words which tightened the grip on his soul most of all.

�Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good � no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother... Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.�

Philemon�s mind raced. �God�s hand may have been involved in this from the beginning? My friend Paul considers this sorry thief his �own heart?� What Onesimus put me through may have been necessary if he was to ever know the Lord? My wife�s pain had a purpose? And now � this man, this thief � is my brother? What am I supposed to do now?!�

And right there, the story abruptly ends. We don�t know what happened. We don�t know the rest of the story. Oh yes, we do know how we�d like for it to end, but we don�t know how it did end. Now why on earth would God�s Spirit leave such a story unfinished? Why would God leave us hanging so? What�s the point?

Perhaps the point is very, very personal. Could it be that this story is left dangling so that we might see ourselves in the story? Maybe we�re left without the ending so we would be challenged to recall that we�re all writing our own ending each day with the way we live in relationship to others.

Let me speak plainly...

Today, your willingness and mine to forgive others is crucial. Clearly, whether we can forgive others the way the Lord has forgiven us reveals whether we truly are the Lord�s own people or not. Our deliberate forgiveness of those who have wronged us along the way is determining, at least in part, whether or not we stay saved in the amazing forgiveness of Jesus Christ. For our willingness to forgive, particularly when we simply cannot forget, either helps or hinders others from continuing their walk with the Lord. For when we refuse to forgive, we aren�t just hurting ourselves; we�re potentially stunting the growth of others.

Friend, today you hold your soul, and perhaps the souls of others, in your hand. And each time you hold your Bible, you hold the words of the scroll that Philemon held in his hands centuries ago. And you too make a decision as to what you will do.

To forgive or not to forgive? That is the question. The question of every day.

So today, and every day, leave no doubt as to your answer, and as to your true Lord. Answer in Jesus� name. Make room in your heart for him � and for your brother.

�The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.�

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